Patrice Lumumba was the first Prime Minister of the independent Democratic Republic of Congo.
He was born on July 2, 1925 to a farmer, François Tolenga Otetshima, and his wife Julienne Wamato Lomendja, in Onalua in the Belgian Congo. Raised in a Catholic family, he was educated at a Protestant primary school, a Catholic missionary school, and finally the government post office training school, where he passed the one-year course with distinction.
Lumumba spoke Tetela, French, Lingala, Swahili, and Tshiluba. Outside of his regular studies, Lumumba took an interest in the Enlightenment ideals of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire. He was also fond of Molière and Victor Hugo. He wrote poetry, and many of his works had an anti-imperialist theme. He worked as a traveling beer salesman in Léopoldville and as a postal clerk in a Stanleyville Post Office for eleven years. In 1951, he married Pauline Opangu.
He had become an opponent of Belgian racism after being jailed for 12 months in 1957 on trumped-up charges by the colonial authorities. During his prison term, he developed his oratory skills and increasingly embraced the view that Congo’s vast mineral wealth should benefit the Congolese people rather than foreign corporate interests.
Two years later, following mass demands for a democratic election, the Congolese National Movement headed by Lumumba decisively won the Congo’s first parliamentary contest. The left-nationalist leader took office in June 1960.
Seven months into his term, he was seized, tortured, and executed in a coup supported by the Belgian authorities, the United States, and the United Nations. With Lumumba’s assassination died a part of the dream of a united, democratic, ethnically pluralist, and pan-Africanist Congo.
Rest in Power!